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Senate to Hold Hearings on Southwest Meltdown

Business

Southwest Airlines Airplane | Image by Markus Mainka/Shutterstock

Southwest Airlines’ holiday travel debacle is under investigation.

The chair of the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will hold hearings into strengthening consumer protections following Southwest Airlines’ operational breakdown, according to The Dallas Morning News.

“Southwest’s customers are rightfully dissatisfied and deserve better,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA). “These consumers need refunds and reimbursements for their expenses.”

The airline industry suffered plenty of setbacks in 2022, from pilot shortages to cancellations. Southwest’s holiday meltdown was criticized by President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who both called for accountability, according to the DMN.

Cantwell spoke with Buttigieg and Southwest CEO Bob Jordan to raise her concerns. She noted that the hearings will be part of a Federal Aviation Administration budget reauthorization process and will examine airline operations.

Buttigieg wrote a letter to Jordan calling for compensation to passengers for canceled travel from Christmas Eve to January 2. He also said that federal officials expect Southwest to reimburse passengers up to $3,800 for baggage-related damage or delays.

Thus far, Southwest has offered 25,000 bonus travel points, with a value of at least $300, to travelers whose flights were canceled or significantly delayed, alongside refunds.

“I know that no amount of apologies can undo your experience,” Jordan said to affected customers.

Southwest Airlines is back to a regular schedule, though delays ensued after IBM experienced a brief outage in its service that provides weather data to Southwest on Tuesday. This led to 39% of Southwest departures being delayed, according to FlightAware.

Southwest says it is committed to earning back consumer trust.

“The lessons of the final week of 2022, and the heart of our people for serving our customers and each other, will guide a multifaceted plan to win back trust and repair relationships with those who count on Southwest to come through,” the company said in a statement.

One analyst believes Southwest’s fiasco could improve air travel across the industry.

“If there’s a spillover effect, it’s that airlines will learn from Southwest’s major toe-stubbing,” said Dean Headley, co-author of the Airline Quality Rating published by Wichita State University.

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